Quick and Tasty Recipes and Meal Ideas for Gestational Diabetes

Achieving Tight Blood Sugar Control Through Diet

Pregnant woman making salad
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The food cravings and aversions of pregnancy often make meal planning and eating a bit more complicated, and gestational diabetes only adds to this complexity. 

When it comes to meal ideas and recipes, a woman with gestational diabetes needs to be most mindful of carbohydrates, which is the nutrient that impacts blood sugars the most.

Understanding Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes refers to diabetes mellitus (also called "diabetes") that develops in women for the first time during pregnancy.

Diabetes means that glucose (sugar) levels in a person's bloodstream are too high.

Normally, the hormone insulin, which is produced by an organ called the pancreas, absorbs and uses glucose that comes from your food. During pregnancy, though, a woman's hormones make it difficult for her to use insulin (this is called insulin resistance). In other words, she has to use a lot more insulin, up to three times as much, to bring down glucose levels in the blood. 

In some pregnant women (around 9 percent, according to the American Diabetes Association) their body cannot make enough insulin to keep their glucose levels within the normal range—this condition is called gestational diabetes. 

In order to control blood sugar, women with gestational diabetes need to follow a carbohydrate-controlled diet. Sometimes, if a diet is not enough to control blood glucose levels, a woman may need to also take insulin or an oral medication like metformin.

Planning Your Meals 

When planning your meals (under the guidance of your healthcare team), there are a couple tidbits to keep in mind. One is that your sensitivity and reactivity to carbohydrates may increase as your pregnancy progresses. 

Also, pregnancy with diabetes can make big demands on time which can influence your ability to prepare home-made meals.

This is why many women find it helpful to keep recipes simple and to be as repetitive as possible with meals that work for both their lifestyle and blood sugar.

In other words, if you find meals that work for breakfast, stick to those meals and cycle that menu. If you find a daily menu that seems to produce good blood sugar results, repeat it. This way, you only have to look up nutritional data and do extra math when eating a meal that is out of the norm.

Recipes for Gestational Diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it's important to meet with a diabetic nutritionist, so you are clear on your unique nutritional needs. 

The number of carbohydrates you can eat per meal will depend on your blood sugar control, weight, activity level, and blood sugar targets. 

In addition to controlling your carbohydrate intake, you’ll want to be sure to add lean protein and healthy fat to your meals to balance blood sugar and boost nutrition.

Breakfast

Breakfast can be the most challenging meal. Many women with gestational diabetes struggle with blood sugar levels in the morning. In fact, it might seem like any carbohydrate can make your blood sugar levels skyrocket. Overall, good control of your blood sugar at breakfast can make it easier to maintain your blood sugar throughout the rest of the day.

Here are some example meal options:

  • 2 eggs with 1 whole grain corn tortillas, 1/3 avocado, and salsa
  • 2 eggs (hard boiled) with 1-2 servings of whole grain toast
  • A 2-egg omelet with vegetables with 1 ¼ cup strawberries
  • 1 smoothie: ½ banana, 2 strawberries, 1 cup almond milk, 1 teaspoon nut butter, 1 tablespoon flaxseed
  • ½ cup cooked oatmeal (made with water) with 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts and ¾ cup blueberries
  • 1 low-fat plain Greek yogurt with 1 cup raspberries and 2 Tablespoons slivered almonds

Other breakfast recipes include:

    Remember to avoid adding any sugar to your food or drinks, like your morning coffee. In moderation, you can choose alternative sweeteners like Splenda (sucralose).  

    Lunch

    At lunch, keep yourself satisfied with some lean protein, vegetables, and whole grains.

    • Salad: Greens, veggies, 1/2 cup of beans and dressing with a small toasted whole grain roll

    • Whole Grain Wraps: Greens and 4 oz grilled chicken or shrimp wrapped in one medium whole grain tortilla with pickles and mustard, plus one serving of fruit

    • Whole Grain Pita: Stuffed with a serving of protein (lean beef, low-fat cheese, chicken, fresh turkey), greens, onion, tomato, avocado, and 1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds. You can also stuff a pita with fish, although limit the type and amount due to mercury content. Peanut butter is another good protein option. 

    Dinner 

    Dinner combinations consist of protein and non-starchy vegetables. Example combinations include:

    • Grilled turkey burger on 1 whole grain bun with ½ cup roasted sweet potatoes and a large salad
    • Steamed, grilled or stir-fried non-starchy vegetables with 2 servings of protein and 1 cup of brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta

    Examples of non-starchy vegetables include:

    • Greens (for example, spinach, collards, kale)
    • Broccoli
    • Carrots
    • Green beans
    • Tomatoes
    • Onions
    • Mushrooms

    Other dinner recipes include:

    Snacks

    While it may be tempting to drink sugary drinks (for example, soda or sweet tea) and snack on sweets (for example, candy, cookies, ice cream, and donuts) during the day, you want to avoid these. 

    Keeping your snacks to about 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates will help control your blood sugar. A bedtime snack is particularily important. Here are some sample snack ideas:

    • 1 oz low-fat cheese with 5 whole grain crackers or 1 brown rice cake
    • 1 small cut apple with 1 oz of low-fat cheese or 1 tablespoon nut butter
    • 3 cups air-popped popcorn with 1/4 cup nuts
    • 20 diabetes-friendly snacks

    Here are some ideas for snacks to make ahead in bulk. Add crackers or tortilla chips to obtain the necessary carbohydrates desired per snack. Also, eating every two to three hours will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable and avoid lows.

    A Word From Verywell

    In the end, when following a carbohydrate-controlled diet, it's important to follow the recommendations of your doctor and/or diabetes nutritionist. This way you can keep your blood sugars on target, and hopefully avoid the need for insulin. 

    In addition, be sure to discuss with your doctor how often and when you should be checking your blood sugar levels, as these numbers may affect your meal plan. Lastly, talk with your doctor about exercise during pregnancy, as daily exercise can help optimize your glucose control. 

    Sources:

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2013). Frequently Asked Questions: Gestational Diabetes. 

    American Diabetes Association. (2016). What is Gestational Diabetes?

    Coustan DR. Patient education: Gestational diabetes mellitus (Beyond the Basics). Nathan DM, Greene MF eds. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. 

    Hans S, Middleton P, Shepherd E, Van Ryswyk E. Crowther CA. Different types of dietary advice for women with gestational diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Feb 25;2:CD009275.

    Poomalar GK. Changing trends in management of gestational diabetes mellitus. World J Diabetes. 2015 Mar 15;6(2):284-95.

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